A friend of mine, Steve Shapiro, called in this report to me last Saturday (10/30/04). (Report from Sunday 10/31/04 to follow.)
He's been in Florida for the past few days working in one of the "Election Protection" teams that have been organized by Bay Area People for Election Protection, a group of citizens that have come together to help people vote in various "trouble spots" across the nation. In the 2000 election, Dade county, Florida, was one of the biggest "trouble spots." (To say the least.)
This time around, citizens of Dade county, which is largely african american and hatian, are taking advantage of the opportunity to vote early.
People are waiting in line for three to sometimes 6 hours in the hot sun just to vote. For the most part, they are happy to do it. (Yeah right!) No seriously; They are quite relieved that their vote will be counted this time around.
The Election Protection team has been working out of the local NAACP office in the local church. (The New Birth Vision To Victory Baptist Church, in North Miami.)
On Saturday, at the precinct where Steve was working, voting was open from 1-5 pm. The way things worked at that precinct, at 5pm, the Elections Clerk goes and gets in line. Everyone in front of Clerk gets to vote. It provides an easy means of protecting those who got there in time to those trying to sneak in after the deadline. (Note: Other precincts are using a priority ticket system -- just like a rock concert ticket line. Numbered tickets are handed out to the line and the numbers are called out later. This allows people to sit down and hang out. Or go get some food and come back, or whatever. Remember, it can take hours for your turn to come up.)
Steve described what he called a "festival atmosphere." The law in Florida is that you can't bother voters within a 50 ft radius of the precinct (note: in California, it's 100 ft). So immediately outside of that 50 ft radius, people are gathering, people are singing songs, music is blaring, people are dancing, performing circus tricks (seriously), giving speeches, playing games with their kids -- you name it. It's a feel good kinda atmosphere. These people aren't taking their votes for granted. They appreciate being counted this year, and they appreciate all of the people that came out of the woodwork to monitor the process to ensure that their votes would be counted this year.
Steve and his team (5 from San Francisco and 1 person from Seattle) have been driving buses of lawyers and voters around, delivering water, and doing whatever else is needed using a fleet of 20 vans that have been rented from the airport.